Since Dwight Howard took home three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards between 2009 and 2011, a different player has won the award each season. Kawhi Leonard took home the honor last season, winning a tight race over Draymond Green and DeAndre Jordan. Those three should be in the thick of things again this year, with Anthony Davis, the reigning two-time league leader in BPG also factoring in heavily. This is one of the more subjective races in the league, as some choose to go with the guys who put up the best stats (BPG, SPG, DRPG) and others place a larger importance on things you can only see in live action. The last few years have leaned towards the latter, which is something I agree with. Here are my picks for the top five finishers in 2015-16 DPOY voting:
1: Kawhi Leonard - SF - San Antonio Spurs
The Claw led the league in SPG last season, but his overall defensive value runs much deeper than traditional stats can take us. His length makes him a pest in both on-ball and off-ball situations, and he's got the athleticism and strength to defend any of the league's best wing players. He's still only 24 years old, which means he's probably not falling off anytime soon. I'm not willing to bet against him.
2: Anthony Davis - F/C - New Orleans Pelicans
Davis has led the league in BPG the past two years, his second and third seasons as a pro. The Pelicans list his wingspan at over 7'7, which is 2" greater than what he measured at the draft combine in 2012. Whether that's true or not doesn't matter, his long arms are his greatest defensive asset. Also of value, he's athletic enough to switch on pick-and-rolls and guard effectively away from the basket. He's only 22, so again, not going away for a while.
3: Draymond Green - F - Golden State Warriors
Green doesn't put up the biggest BPG or SPG numbers, but he's got great defensive value thanks to his hustle and ability to guard multiple positions. The Warriors had the league's best defense last season, and that had a lot to do with Green. I'm fine with calling any of these top three the best defensive player in the league. I picked this order based on how I think the voting will break down at the end of the year.
4: Rudy Gobert - C - Utah Jazz
Gobert's emergence coincided with the Jazz turning into an elite defensive group as the season went on. The Jazz only gave up 94.8 PPP after trading Enes Kanter, a number for which Gobert deserves a large share of credit. Plus, you don't get great nicknames like "The French Rejection" or "The Stifle Tower" without being the real deal.
5: Marc Gasol - C - Memphis Grizzlies
The anchor of one of the league's best defensive units, Gasol belongs in this discussion every year. He doesn't put up the raw numbers to impress the voters, but he's fundamentally sound, and he means a lot to the Memphis defense. I'd also be fine with listing any of DeAndre Jordan, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Bogut or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in this spot.